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2019: The year in pictures

December 19, 2019

For ten years, University photographer J. Adam Fenster has documented the varied facets of life at the University of Rochester, including major milestones, new discoveries, quirky moments, and campus beauty. As 2019 winds down, we asked Fenster to share some of his top selections from among the many thousands of pictures he captured this year as well as his thoughts about what makes each picture special.


a composite of four photos of students in a lab, each quadrant a different color.In living color

Fenster created this composite image of four different exposures taken as Rochester researchers use sequential beams of multispectral light to reveal hidden inscriptions on Torah scrolls.

“This is my attempt to show in one single photograph what you would otherwise see as brief bursts of flashing colored light during the imaging process,” says Fenster.

The final image, assembled in Photoshop, is four layers with a segment cut from each original photo and then compiled into one. “If you look closely, you can see things in the image aren’t quite aligned,” he adds. Nevertheless, he successfully distills a dynamic research process into a singular eye-catching result.


group of students jump up and down and cheer.The moments that make us

Match Day is an annual rite of passage for medical students around the country, including at Rochester, during which they find out their placements for residency.

“It’s an exciting, emotional day for many young doctors,” explains Fenster. “This scene is pretty typical of what you can expect to see there—three great faces and expressions that capture the feelings of that moment. The challenge is that these moments are happening very briefly yet simultaneously all around you.”

The other challenge, according to Fenster, comes with photographing events that occur each year. “To the extent that you can find new ways to photograph things—through different positions, a different piece of gear, or different camera settings—that’s important to do. But ultimately, I’m not doing this for me,” he says. “It might be my tenth Match Day, but today is their Match Day, so that’s how you have to look at it.”


a bird in flight with a tag on its leg.The scrub-jay way

Fenster relishes the opportunity to document Rochester researchers working in the field. He’s also a big fan of photographing animals. When he heard that Rochester biologist Nancy Chen studies endangered Florida Scrub-Jays in their native habitat, he instinctively knew an extended field trip with his camera in tow was required.

“You’re with these researchers, day in and day out. And being immersed like that lets you do better work because you can’t be doing anything else,” he notes. Fenster snapped a picture of a tagged Florida Scrub-Jay taking flight after perching atop a researcher’s head. He then cropped in by more than 50 percent to frame the bird against the similarly blue-hued sky.

The entire experience was one of Fenster’s all-time favorite assignments—not only from this year, but also from his entire decade with the University. “It’s everything I love about photography and being a photographer,” he says.


large crowd of graduates at a commencement ceremony, bouncing a beach ball. Having a ball with 1,500 of my best friends

You can’t talk about the year in pictures and not include a photo from Commencement.

Each May, thousands of students graduate from the University, but the main ceremony for undergraduates in Arts, Sciences & Engineering takes place on the Eastman Quadrangle. “I set up a couple of remote cameras on the railing of the Rush Rhees Library balcony. That way, I don’t have to send a photographer there, especially since the area is now crowded with remote video cameras for the various live feeds,” Fenster recalls.

Compressed with a telephoto lens, this picture showcases bright pops of color amidst a dense sea of black-robed graduates. Meanwhile, a subtle X-shape draws the viewer’s eye right to the middle, where one graduate is punching a yellow inflatable beach ball. Look closely and you can see hundreds of individual micro-expressions from members of the Class of 2019.


student sits on the floor in her room, unpacking.Breathing room

Move-In Day is another one of the annual events on campus that stirs up myriad emotions.

“I think this was the first year I didn’t go to the parking lot to photograph the big lineup of cars,” he says. In contrast to such typical hustle-and-bustle shots, Fenster selected this quiet moment to showcase. Here, incoming first-year student Abbey Kampel puts away clothes in her new room in Genesee Hall.

“From a technical standpoint,” he says, “I like how this you have the dark area on the one side offset by the window light on the other.” Indeed, the overall composition—and especially the lighting on Kampel’s face—calls to mind the work of Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer.


huge airplane flying very close behind the Rush Rhees Library towerIn ‘plane’ sight

Whenever Rochester hosts an airshow, Fenster has his camera prepped and ready.

In August, the Thunderbirds were practicing for the 2019 Rochester International Airshow. Fenster was in Fauver Stadium making environmental portraits of a student as the jets whizzed by in the sky. At one point, he heard a loud rumbling noise. “I looked over and saw a massive cargo plane lumbering in for a landing. I swung my lens over to it and fired a long burst of shots as it passed behind the library tower.”

The end result is not something you see every day, which is what makes the shot remarkable. He says, “We’re always looking for new, unexpected ways to show the library—whether that’s with an eclipse, rainbow, lightning, or, in this case, a USAF C-17 Globemaster.”


two children braiding a college student's hair.Fast friends

Twin sisters Adrianna, left, and Brianna Lane braid Isabell Leonard’s hair at the Boys and Girls Club of Rochester. Leonard, a member of the Class of 2023, participated in this year’s Wilson Day, when first-year and incoming students get to know the Rochester community through service projects.

“I like the symmetry and colors here,” notes Fenster. In addition, Leonard’s shirt helps provide context for viewers. “With that it becomes a locator photo, as they say in wire service parlance. In other words, all the information is in the photo itself and you don’t necessarily have to read the caption to know what’s going on.”


student running through the rain with his backpack over his head.Make a splash

“We were there with our new president covering the first day of classes at East High School,” Fenster says. “It was cloudy all morning and then just as the students were arriving, the skies opened up—pouring rain, lightning and thunder.”

Naturally, the students started running toward the building—and Fenster starting photographing. “I love how he’s using his backpack to shield himself from the rain and the way his foot is just touching the water while raindrops splash on the ground around him.”


graduate student sits in a sound booth in the center of a circle of speakersCan you hear me now?

In this photo, graduate student Tom Stoll tests LEDs that line the loudspeaker array in the lab of Ross Maddox, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering. The loudspeakers allow Rochester researchers to simulate realistic listening environments in order to test how the human brain combines visual and auditory information.

New spaces on campus, especially those with a research purpose, can yield photos for use on the University’s website, in print publications, or to illustrate news stories. “When I saw this setup, I thought to myself, ‘This is an interesting photo-op,’” says Fenster. He used a fisheye lens to capture the scene, with the loudspeakers forming a kind of C-shaped tribunal around Stoll.


close-up of circuit board.Chip off the ol’ circuit board

This quantum processor semiconductor chip—connected to a circuit board—is the size of a pinky fingernail. The device, developed by physics professor John Nichol and his graduate students, brings scientists one step closer to creating a fully functional quantum computer.

To get this shot, which looks simultaneously Art Deco and futuristic, Fenster used a macro lens with a high aperture. “The challenge was to get close and light it in a way that catches all of the cool electrical traces and tiny wires,” he said.


portrait of five musicians with their instruments.In harmony

The annual Gateways Music Festival partners with the Eastman School of Music and features performances by professional musicians of African descent. Among the participants are the members of the Gateways Brass Collective, who needed a new publicity photo. They turned to Fenster for help.

But how do you pose five musicians together and still make them look sharp? The members of the collective made Fenster’s job easier by arriving in the Kodak Hall lobby decked out in matching suits and pocket squares. They were also the ones who suggested sitting in the photo.

Says Fenster, “I ended up picking a low angle to shoot from and that set their heads off against the classical scenes in the background, which made it all come together.”


person on a ladder uses a cloth to clean the face of a statue.Face/Off

Fenster was walking around the River Campus when he came upon contractor Steve Stauffer applying a fresh coat of wax to the statue of George Eastman on the Eastman Quadrangle. “George gets his share of attention from the community, but he also gets a fair bit of abuse from the elements,” Fenster explains. So twice a year, including before Meliora Weekend, Stauffer visits campus to help the statues regain some of their original luster. “And now we know what it takes for George to look as good as he does.”


two students in a hammock, laughing.Red-letter autumnal day

When beautiful weather arrives in Rochester, the students can be relied upon to set up their hammocks on the Eastman Quadrangle. It was just such a day in September when Fenster spotted Brendon Tran ’22 and John Gerald Maqui ’22 sharing a hammock—and a laugh—on the Eastman Quadrangle.

“You’ve got this bright red arc of color that carries your eye through the image and bleeds out of the corner. But the main focus is on the two of them having a moment.”



President Sarah Mangelsdorf in academic regalia holding the mace.It’s official 

On October 4, Sarah Mangelsdorf was inaugurated as the 11th president of the University of Rochester in Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre.

Fenster generally has a lot of freedom and discretion when it comes to composing photos. But every so often, he’s given explicit direction—in this case, to get a vertical portrait of the new president for use on the cover of Rochester Review’s fall issue.

“If there was one photo I had to get that day, this was it,” Fenster recalls. The presentation of the mace is a centerpiece of the investiture, a ritual that marks the entrustment of authority to the new president. In Fenster’s opinion, Mangelsdorf holding the mace is crucial for telling the story of this momentous occasion in University history.


students crouching in the grass in Mount Hope Cemetery.Field notes

In this shot, undergraduate biology students perform a census of the blister beetle population in Mt. Hope Cemetery.

“We’re located right next to a gigantic, historic, beautiful cemetery that’s home to a species of black beetles, and every year Bob Minckley takes his students there to conduct a bug census,” Fenster explains.

Last year, Fenster seized the opportunity to document this uniquely Rochester locale and teaching resource by joining Minckley, a senior lecturer of biology, and his students on their excursion.

“But this year the light was just completely different,” he notes. “You can see the way it’s hitting them and backlighting the grass and headstones. Much of what our students and faculty do involves computers, books, and classrooms. So when they’re out in the field conducting research, we have to catch them there.”


rainbow over Rush Rhees Library.Somewhere under the rainbow

Rainbows are notoriously ephemeral—but the photographic payoff can be huge if you catch them at just the right time.

“I was covering an event in Rush Rhees Library when I looked out the window and saw a sun shower,” recalls Fenster. “Even before the rainbow appeared, I noticed the backlit raindrops, golden shimmery light, people walking. I thought to myself, ‘I need to go right now—and I’m going.’”

While the final result is striking, Fenster laments what could have been, referencing the Photo Friday submission from Gregoire Lier ’20 used on the University’s Instagram. “That’s the shot I’ve wanted to get for years, but you have to be off campus. I was there at the right time, but I wasn’t in the right place.”


photo of a student silhouetted against an icy window.Winter tunnel-land

Snow is a fact of life in Rochester. Fortunately, the University has numerous tunnels and other covered walkways available. Here, a student walks through the outdoor covered bridge connecting Frederick Douglass Commons and Wilson Commons after a November snowstorm.

“People want snow pictures, especially since we get our share here,” Fenster notes. “I had posted up at the corner of the Frederick Douglass Building. It was midmorning and at that point, the light comes from behind giving the snow a blue-ish tone. With the snow covering the tunnel, it ends up looking like an ice cave in there.”


NROTC midshipmen climbs a rope with a crowd of fellow midshipmen looking onHang tight

The midshipmen of the Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) regularly undergo training exercises to help stay in peak physical condition. Earlier this month, Fenster photographed them rope-climbing in the Goergen Athletic Center for a story about the 75th anniversary of ROTC at the University.

“This is one of my favorites,” says Fenster, who set up to shoot on the elevated walkway in the fieldhouse. This position let him get close to the rope—and the climber. “If I’d shot it from the ground up, you wouldn’t see as many faces. You certainly wouldn’t see her face. I like how she’s looking up while everyone around her watches.”



Category: In Photos

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